Why Your Leopard Gecko Wags Its Tail

Have you ever noticed your leopard gecko wagging their tail either at you, their prey or perhaps another gecko? 

This behavior is a fascinating display, but few gecko owners understand why it occurs. 

Leopard geckos wag their tails to communicate certain feelings and reactions to their environments. They can express a wide range of emotions, including excitement, arousal, defensiveness, stress, and even aggression, with different types of tail wags.

Read on to learn more about tail wagging in leopard geckos, different types of tail wags, and what they mean. 

You might be surprised by your gecko’s communication attempts and what they’re saying. 

leopard gecko tail wag

Why Do Leopard Geckos Wag Their Tails?

Healthy leopard geckos typically have large, wide, oddly bulbous-shaped tails, which primarily serve as a fat and energy reserve. 

Their tails are quite long, reaching nearly the length and width of the rest of their bodies. 

Leopard geckos are even able to sever their tails entirely in stressful or dangerous situations as a defense mechanism.  

If your leopard gecko does sever its tail check out our post on leopard gecko regrowing tails for additional information.

Leopard gecko tails serve many important functions. 

Most commonly, however, they use their tails to communicate with other lizards or animals. 

Tail wagging in leopard geckos is primarily a form of communication used to convey intention or emotion to other leopard geckos in their vicinity. 

There are many unique tail-wagging gestures with their purposes and reasons for being used. 

The main emotions conveyed by tail wagging or waving are the following:

  • Stress from their environment or health issues
  • Interest in a mate for courtship purposes
  • Defensiveness towards other geckos
  • Aggression towards other animals, you, or other geckos
  • Intense focus while hunting prey

There is a wide range of unique tail wags, and they are differentiated by the speed at which the gecko wags its tail and the shape of the wagging motion. 

By paying close attention to the way your gecko moves their tail, you will be able to better understand their behaviors and emotions and develop a closer relationship with them. 

Let’s break down the different types of tail movements, what they mean, and how you should react to them.

Mating and Courtship Tail Wagging

This type of tail wag is quite common in groups of leopard geckos or between pairs intended for breeding. 

It is usually observed in males during the leopard gecko mating season, which takes place between January and September.

When engaging in mating courtship, male leopard geckos typically vibrate their tails at high speed as they approach the female leopard gecko they intend to mate with. 

If the female is receptive to the male’s attempts, she will stay completely still as he climbs onto her, grabs her neck with his mouth, and proceeds with the rest of the mating ritual. 

This type of tail wag is very fast and looks more like a series of small vibrations than an actual tail wagging gesture. 

It is used by male geckos and is meant to display interest in a potential female mate. 

Defensive or Fearful Tail Wagging

This type of tail wagging is also common in groups of leopard geckos or between competing males. 

Some geckos use it to display fear or surprise towards their owners if they are handled too roughly or abruptly. 

When leopard geckos are upset or intimidated by another gecko or animal, they lift their heads high in a defensive stance while lowering their body flat against the ground. 

Next, the tip of the gecko’s tail will wag back and forth quickly while they maintain their defensive stance. 

In groups or pairs of geckos, this type of tail usually waving directly precedes a fight breaking out, so act quickly if you notice it in your cohabitated lizards. 

You should separate the geckos immediately and keep them apart indefinitely upon seeing this gesture from any of them. 

If you see a lone gecko display this behavior, you have probably frightened them with a sudden movement or loud noise. 

Perhaps they were spooked by another animal in your home, like a dog or a cat approaching their tank. 

Either way, keep the stress around their environment to a minimum to prevent this behavior, as it sometimes precedes tail dropping if the gecko is particularly upset or startled. 

While tail dropping is a normal and intended defense mechanism, you want to avoid it in captivity as it takes a long time for your gecko to grow their tail back, and they lose a significant amount of fat and the backup food supply stored in their tail. 

Additionally, tail dropping is an upsetting event for these lizards to endure and an obvious sign of severe stress. 

Slow, Deliberate Tail Waving

This type of tail wagging is possibly the most common of all tail wagging gestures. 

It often occurs in groups of geckos or newly-introduced pairs and denotes an awareness of each other’s presence.  

This type of slow tail wagging gesture is pensive and deliberate. 

The entire tail will move back and forth very slowly as the gecko approaches another member of its species, its owner, or another animal. 

This slow tail wave is usually not a cause of alarm and mostly just means your gecko is deciding what they think about another creature in their presence. 

If you notice your leopard gecko slowly waving its tail at you or another animal, don’t be worried or alarmed. 

Still, keep an eye on your lizard for further gestures just in case they become aggressive.

Hunting Tail Wagging

Leopard geckos commonly display excitement tail wagging while they hunt their prey and is an interesting, thrilling sight to behold. 

When hunting their favorite food, geckos become quite excitable, and their tails show it all. 

This gesture typically begins as a very slow, deliberate wagging of the tip of their tail as the lizard sneaks up on its intended prey. 

Right before the gecko strikes its prey, it will pause for a moment. 

Their tail waving will suddenly pick up in pace and become erratic, almost like a quick vibration. 

The gecko’s eyes become wide and alert in preparation for the end of its hunt. 

Then, as the gecko leaps into action, its tail will wave back and forth very quickly before stopping entirely as the lizard munches on its prey. 

This gesture is not a cause for alarm and is merely a sign of excitement and a healthy, alert gecko. 

You will likely observe this tail-wagging behavior very often as a gecko owner. 

Other Notable Types of Leopard Gecko Body Language

Leopard geckos have a wide array of body language and their different types of tail waving gestures. 

They are quite communicative lizards, and if you own a healthy adult gecko, you will notice how much they interact with their environments on a day-to-day basis. 

Other normal, common types of body language displayed by leopard geckos include:

Vocalizations

Leopard geckos are very talkative lizards, and they have a wide range of vocalizations, including chirping, barking, clicking, and hissing. 

Juvenile and baby geckos sometimes even scream or screech to ward off predators.

Licking

All lizards use their tongues to sense direction and gain information from their environments. 

Leopard geckos frequently stick their tongues out and touch objects in their tanks to familiarize themselves with their surroundings.

Staring

Healthy leopard geckos are very attentive and alert, and you might notice their wide-eyed expression as they examine their tanks from time to time. 

This is normal, although somewhat off-putting at times for unassuming gecko owners.

If you’d like to learn more about the reason behind their stares read our article on leopard gecko stares.

Do Leopard Geckos Drop Their Tails? 

Tail dropping is the leopard gecko’s primary defense mechanism. 

With their detachable tails, leopard geckos can quickly escape predators or frightening situations by leaving their tails behind as a distraction. 

Sometimes stressed tail wagging is a sign the gecko is preparing to drop its tail. 

Although it is an intended defense, you should make every effort to keep your gecko’s tail intact and safe. 

Tail dropping is very upsetting and frightening for leopard geckos, and by dropping their tail, they lose a significant portion of fat.

Also, regrown tails typically don’t grow back to the same size as the original tail, and the tail regeneration process is quite long and stressful for the lizard.

We have a dedicated article on what to do when leopard geckos drop their tails for more information on the subject.

veterinarian

Ask a Veterinarian Today

Chat with an on-call Veterinarian in minutes! 24/7 Unlimited Chats.